County news April 10, 2016

Win the toss and...actually don't bother

ESPNcricinfo staff

The English County Championship began in historic fashion as across the country the toss was ditched under new regulations which allow the visiting captain to decide whether he wants to bowl first.

Four captains took up the option as Somerset, Warwickshire, Surrey and Sussex all opted to put the home side in the opening day of the season.

At Chelmsford tradition was stuck to as Gareth Roderick, the Gloucestershire captain, declined the chance to bowl so the toss took place as normal and he batted first against Essex. However, there is nothing in the new regulations to stop a visiting captain still bowling first if he wins the toss in the normal way.

The change in toss regulations stemmed from a growing concern that the standard of pitches in county cricket - particularly in Division Two - was compromising the development of players.

Specifically, the role of spinners has become marginalised on surfaces that sometimes provide extravagant help to medium-pace seamers while batsmen, fearful that they will receive an unplayable delivery sooner rather than later, have responded by playing more aggressively. As a result, some of the skills required to succeed in Test cricket - patience, discipline and consistency - have been lost.

Robert Key was a member of the ECB cricket committee who debate the decision over the toss before implementing it across both Championship divisions.

"My original view was that we should have tougher penalties for poor pitches," he told ESPNcricinfo late last year after the announcement. "But that is so hard to police. It just becomes a minefield. But what I still think is that the stigma over spinning pitches has to end. If we see 15 wickets fall to seam bowling on the first day of a game, nobody bats an eye. But if the ball turns on day one, people start to worry. That has to stop."

Andrew Gale, captain of defending county champions Yorkshire, was less convinced about the changes.

"Obviously the rule has been brought in to encourage spinners and because of a recognition that the wickets have become too seamer-friendly," he said. "The intention is a good one - I know that. But if wickets are that bad, why haven't points been docked? Fifteen-plus wickets have fallen many times on the first day and it has repeatedly been put down to bad batting. I can see Keysie's point about something needing to be done, but why haven't pitch inspectors done their job properly? It comes down to people being strong."